Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Ford EcoBoost 400
Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week's track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That's what we're going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form.
Clearly, this isn't to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week's track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we'll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let's check it out. Here are drivers we should monitor for the Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead.
The Championship Four
Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): FanDuel made the championship four all the same salary this week, which is a pretty fun idea. And given how these races have played out, one of them is likely to win the race on Sunday, making them all intriguing options for DFS. But how should we rank the four prior to practice and qualifying?
A good way to decide this is by looking at how each driver has performed during the three playoff races at 1.5-mile tracks. These are recent enough to account for in-season progression and regression, and the overlap with Homestead should be pretty significant. Here's the average running positions of the championship four in those races.
|1.5-Mile Tracks in Playoffs||Texas||Kansas||Las Vegas|
|Martin Truex Jr.||13th||6th||7th|
All of them had at least one dud with an average running position of 13th or lower, and three of them have won one of the races. Harvick won in Texas, Hamlin in Kansas, and Truex in Las Vegas, meaning Kyle Busch was the lone guy held out of victory lane.
That's probably enough for us to put Busch fourth on the list out of this group. His struggles have stretched even beyond 1.5-mile tracks of late while the other three have mopped up the entire playoff run. We should change our tune on Busch if he lights it up in practice, but he enters the weekend half a peg below the rest.
Of this group, the same guy is the only one of these four with multiple top-fives on this track type during the playoffs, has led the most laps on this track type in the playoffs, and has led the most laps on this track type for the full season. That's Harvick. He has been lightning quick on the 1.5-mile tracks all season long, and he won in Texas just two weeks ago. We might want to give him the slight edge over the others prior to practice and qualifying.
Hamlin had the most dominant win of this group, leading 153 of 277 laps in Kansas after starting all the way back in 23rd. But Truex has been the more consistent driver, logging a pair of sixth-place finishes in the two races he didn't win. As a result, we'll give Truex the slight edge over Hamlin prior to practice and qualifying.
Again, this could all change during practice on Friday, so don't view this as being some hard-and-fast ranking of the group, especially if someone really stands out in the 5- and 10-lap averages. We should consider all four of these guys long and hard given how these championship races have played out in the past.
Kyle Larson ($13,000): If Kyle Larson were to ever qualify for the championship race, he'd likely be the favorite to win the whole thing. He has come close to playing spoiler a bunch of times, and he'll likely get another crack at it this weekend.
In the past four Homestead races, Larson has led 324 laps. Nobody else has led more than 183. Larson hasn't won any of those, but he does have three top-fives, including a runner-up in 2016. He has given way to the championship contenders later in races, but Larson has consistently run up front whenever the Cup Series has gone to this track.
One reason to be willing to skip over Larson and target the drivers in the championship four is that Larson hasn't been nearly as stout this year at the 1.5-mile tracks. In nine races using this package, he has just two top-fives and four top-10s, and he has led just 69 total laps. Because of this, we'll want to pay special attention to Larson in practice. If he puts up crazy fast times, then we can consider saving salary and jumping down to him. But if Larson is more middling, then we should likely overlook the track history and trust what we have seen lately.
Joey Logano ($12,000): Unlike last year, Joey Logano isn't part of the championship four after falling short in the closing laps of last week's race in Phoenix. That's a pretty big shame because Logano has been on par with Larson at this track of late.
The obvious one is last year when Logano won the race, claiming his first Cup Series championship. But even before that, his three previous finishes were fourth, fourth, and sixth, and he enters this weekend with a top-nine average running position in six straight Homestead races.
The other plus with Logano is that the performance on 1.5-mile tracks has been there throughout the season. His lone win came all the way back in March, but he has three other top-fives, including a fourth-place finish in Texas two weeks ago. Of the non-championship contenders, Logano -- and not Larson -- seems to be the guy best-positioned to bust up the party and claim the checkered flag for the race on Sunday.
Erik Jones ($9,000): There are three drivers below $10,000 who have had multiple top-10 average running positions in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks during the playoffs. One of them is Erik Jones, whom we'll discuss here. The other two are Aric Almirola ($8,200) and Daniel Suarez ($8,000), and all three set up to be strong plays on Sunday.
Starting with Jones, we know the downsides here. He's crazy volatile, and a win is as firmly in his range of outcomes as a 40th-place finish. But his odds of hitting the highs are good with three top-fives and six top-10s at 1.5-mile tracks this year, the six top-10s being tied for most among all drivers. He had an eighth-place average running position in Kansas and seventh in Texas, meaning he doesn't necessarily have to qualify poorly to be in play.
After a terrible stretch at the start of the playoffs, Jones now has three top-10s in the past four races, and his average running position has been 11th or better in all of the good runs. That doesn't mean that he's no longer a risk to bust, but it means we can certainly bank on his upside in tournaments.
Clint Bowyer ($8,800): With Almirola and Suarez both having multiple impressive runs on this track type in the playoffs and Harvick in the championship four, Clint Bowyer may look like the disappointment of the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. But he has been solid, too, even if it's not necessarily showing up in the overall stats.
Bowyer -- not shockingly, given that SHR swept the top three spots -- was strong in Texas, leading 36 laps after starting 24th. His average running position was 13th, and he finished second in the opening segment, but the handling went away in the final stage, pushing him down to an 11th-place finish. His car was stronger there than the finish would indicate.
Bowyer's two top-fives at 1.5-mile tracks this year show that he can crank out some upside, and his salary is down to just $8,800. At that number, he's a pretty tasty play, especially if he qualifies in the middle portion of the pack.
Alex Bowman ($8,400): It feels like Alex Bowman's win in Chicago is an afterthought by this point. His salary spiked up into the $10,000 range following that win, but it has sunk all the way back down to $8,400 now, pretty similar to where he was before he got on his heater back in the spring. There have been some spotty performances, so you can understand that, but it seems like now is a good time to buy low.
The big reason to be interested in Bowman is what he has done during the playoffs on this track type. He finished sixth in Las Vegas and followed that up with a fifth-place finish and 10th-place average running position in Texas. He even led 11 laps there, giving him three races on this track type in 2019 in which he has led double-digit laps.
Bowman hasn't had the same speed as the SHR cars on this track type, so it's easy for him to get lost in the shuffle in what is a pretty loaded tier. But Bowman does have three top-fives at these tracks this year, and he can run out front. Even if the speed doesn't blow you away in practice, we should still be willing to give Bowman a look.
Daniel Suarez ($8,000): As mentioned before, Suarez has been strong on this track type during the playoffs. He has been pushing for wins, which isn't something that was happening earlier in the year.
The final race at a 1.5-mile track prior to the playoffs was at Kentucky back in July. At that race, Suarez started on the pole and led 52 laps before finishing eighth. Given that he started at the point, you could try to write that one off.
But he has carried that speed into the playoffs. Suarez ran into issues in both Las Vegas and Kansas, but his average running positions were 12th and 10th, respectively, and he led 29 laps in the Vegas race. He showed he could convert that into a strong finish in Texas by finishing third, leading 25 laps, and holding a seventh-place average running position.
The downside with Suarez is that he tends to qualify well, starting eighth or better in all four of the races noted above. That means he's not someone who is likely to net you place-differential points. But with the finishing upside being so high, we can still target him in tournaments if he starts at the front, and he would be an elite play if something were to push him backward in qualifying.
Paul Menard ($5,500): This will be Paul Menard's final race as a full-time Cup Series driver as he transitions into retirement this offseason. Although it has been a year to forget, Menard has still been fast enough recently to warrant consideration.
In the past two races at 1.5-mile tracks, Menard has boasted average running positions of 15th and 14th, respectively, after starting outside the top 20. The second-cheapest driver to have a top-15 average running position in both of those races is Suarez up at $8,000. Menard didn't convert either of those races into a great finish, but he certainly could have had things broken a different direction.
Menard doesn't yet have a top-10 on this track type in 2019, so he's not one of the drivers we can consider if they qualify up front. But he has qualified 21st or worse in each playoff race at a 1.5-mile track, and if he winds up there again, then Menard should be on our radar one last time.
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,500): The guy replacing Menard at Wood Brothers Racing next year is Matt DiBenedetto, and that'll be a major speed upgrade for DiBenedetto. All year long, his Leavine Family Racing car has struggled to keep up on this track type, logging zero top-20 finishes in the first five races. Things have been better recently, though, enough so where we can give him thought even as the speeds go up.
In those first five races at 1.5-mile tracks, DiBenedetto's best finish was 21st. In the past four races, his worst finish is 21st. He was 16th in Kentucky and 21st in Las Vegas to show a pulse on these tracks. But then he notched his two best finishes of the year on this track type in Kansas (15th) and Texas (14th). With a 14th-place average running position in Texas, it's not a plus run he lucked into.
Speed is still a concern here because the team does not have the proper equipment. That means we'll have to keep a close eye on DiBenedetto in practice, and if someone like Chris Buescher ($6,000) puts up better times, we should happily turn there instead. The past two races, though, at least force us to monitor DiBenedetto, and they allow us to use him if he shows life on Friday.